There’s a very different type of show taking over London’s iconic Roundhouse this Summer as the legendary fashion icon Jean Paul Gaultier brings his Fashion Freak Show to the Capital for a limited season of 52 shows. The premise intrigued me - A combination of revue and fashion show. It felt like it could be a hard thing to get right, but could Jean Paul Gaultier pull it off?
Having premiered in Paris in 2019, Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show charts pop culture over the last 50 years, focusing on his life and career combined with political and cultural changes. Split into four sections, we see Jean Paul’s beginnings and his first creation (the first transgender teddy bear) right up to the legendary status he has made for himself.
The first thing to really talk about with this production is the staging. Absolutely huge in scale, the Roundhouse is completely transformed with a catwalk protruding out surrounded by cabaret tables. The set design from Justin Nardella is jawdroppingly sensational, with huge screens, genius video design (co-designed by Nardella and Renaud Rubiano) and a brilliant use of props bringing Jean Pauls story to life, while stunning lighting from Per Hording pulses through the Roundhouse to genius effect.
Whether you are a fashionista or a bit clueless when it comes to it, it would be hard to not be completely transfixed by the incredible creations that walk the runway. Gaultier’s creations are as iconic as they get and to see them come to life is a true testament to the talent he has and why he has become so synonymous with the word fashion itself. One clever touch is during a replication of his first fashion sense where the audience can watch both the models on the catwalk and simultaneously see the backstage side of it as they all get changed into their next creation.
One of the strongest elements of Fashion Freak Show is the choreography. Helmed by Marion Motin, the movement on display throughout is as diverse and eclectic as it gets but all with one thing in common – it’s always beautiful. One stunning part sees one of the cast performing acrobatics in mid-air in a truly awe-inspiring sequence.
A soundtrack of classic anthems from the last 5 decades entertains us through the show with a mix of original versions blasting out, and live vocals from the talented performers throughout the piece. Whether it’s a new twist on Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ to now be ‘Protect Yourself’, ‘Le Freak’ to Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Amy Winehouse, the eclectic mix of music is the perfect accompaniment to the fashion on display.
The variety of sequences throughout Fashion Freak Show ensure it is never boring. Whether it is Anna Wintour turning into a panto character, a dance-off, a particularly raunchy sex section (sextion?) or the ridiculously brilliant opening number featuring dancing teddy bears, no two sequences are alike. The most moving part of the show and an undoubted highlight is a captivating sequence documenting his boyfriend Francis’ death from AIDS-related causes.
The lack of a cohesive narrative can lead to some jarring moments as we move from one extreme to another, but you get the idea that is very much the intention. Fashion Freak Show does suffer from a slight pacing problem, particularly in act two which didn’t feel quite as strong in comparison to the near-perfect first act.
Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show is as wonderfully weird as you would hope. A truly impressive and high-tech production value combined with fantastic live vocals and of course Jean Pauls iconic fashion made this a true feast for the senses. The most unique and eccentric show you will see in London at the moment, Fashion Freak Show really is a fitting portrayal of all Jean Paul Gaultier has contributed to the world of fashion. It really is absolutely fabulous.
Jean Paul Gaultiers Fashion Freak Show plays at London’s Roundhouse until August 28th. Tickets from www.roundhouse.org.uk
Photos by Mark Senior